keto for women

Keto for Women

While there are many things that are the same for women and men, the keto diet is not one of them.  Keto for women just needs a few modifications and considerations – so let’s dive in!

Keto and Ketosis

As I’m sure you know, the Ketogenic Diet is a low carb, moderate protein, high-fat lifestyle.  This will generally result in a state of ketosis.

Ketosis is when your body burns fat to produce ketones for energy needs instead of using glycogen for energy.  Glycogen is the stored form of glucose.  With ketosis, generally comes more energy, weight/fat loss, and an overall more focused feeling.

While ketosis can be beneficial for epilepsy (the original purpose), it is also beneficial for weight loss, diabetes, acne, PCOS, neurological diseases, cancer and more. [1]

Hormones

So, women and hormones go hand in hand, right?  Kidding.  But not really.  I am a woman so I can joke about that.

I can get completely technical here but I’m not going to.  I’m not going to do a hormone lesson and talk about all the ways ketosis affects our hormones.

I’m simply going to talk about the 2 biggies.  They are perceiving fasting as starving and messing with the thyroid.  Now, while Keto and Intermittent Fasting are 2 different things, more often than not they go hand in hand.

Either Intermittent Fasting is done as part of a regular routine (like I do) or fasting is used to get into Ketosis quicker.  Either way, it is often a part of the keto lifestyle in some capacity.

So let’s dive into that first.

Starvation Mode

The most common form of Intermittent Fasting is having eating windows.  For example, I have an 8-hour window and a 16 hour fast.  I do this on most days, but not every day.  My husband often does 24-hour fasts, but I don’t do this.

If you want to know more about Intermittent Fasting, make sure to check out Episode 7 of my Keto Living Podcast where I do a full Q&A all about Intermittent Fasting.

So, here’s the deal, from an evolutionary standpoint women tend to hold fat on our abdomen, hips, butt and thighs.  Right?  This serves a purpose.  Our bodies need to be able to support pregnancy and breastfeeding.  Our bodies are designed to make sure that we can.  Don’t you love nature?

What happens when we do Intermittent Fasting sometimes is that our beautiful female bodies go into overdrive and say “Oh crap, I’m starving, I better go into starvation mode and store everything just in case there is a pregnancy or something right about the corner”.

But what it also does it make you HANGRY.  If you aren’t familiar with that term it is ANGRY HUNGRY!

Your body is doing everything it can to get you to eat.  Like sending hungry signals strong enough to make a Rhino eat.  Sigh….

I’m totally over-simplifying this, but you get the idea.  We need to be careful and listen to our bodies.  This is why I do not do 24-hour fasts or more than 24 hours.

My hubby has no problem doing 1-2 day fasts.  He might get a little cranky at times, but it works well with his body.  Not so much mine.

Thyroid

The other piece is the thyroid.  My 30-second overview for background is this: The thyroid produces hormones that are responsible for quite a bit.  Things like digestion, metabolic rate, mood, breathing, menstrual cycles and more. [3].  Two hormones it produces are T3 and T4.  A delicate balance is required.

I’m going to read you a quote from an interesting study.  All the studies are listed in the references section.

To evaluate the effect of caloric restriction and dietary composition on circulating T3 and rT3 obese subjects were studied after 7-18 days of total fasting and while on randomized hypocaloric diets (800 kcal) in which carbohydrate content was varied to provide from 0 to 100% calories. As anticipated, total fasting resulted in a 53% reduction in serum T3 in association with reciprocal 58% increase in rT3. Subjects receiving the no-carbohydrate hypocaloric diets for two weeks demonstrated a similar 47% decline in serum T3 but there was no significant change in rT3 with time. In contrast, the same subjects receiving isocaloric diets containing at least 50 g of carbohydrate showed no significant changes in either T3 or rT3 concentration. The decline in serum T3 during the no-carbohydrate diet correlated significantly with blood glucose and ketones but there was no correlation with insulin or glucagon. We conclude that dietary carbohydrate is an important regulatory factor in T3 production” [2].

So what that says is that the thyroid of people, not just women, on the keto diet might suffer.

I’ll speak for myself here now, but I have Hashimoto’s which is basically the autoimmune version of hypothyroidism.   So given that my thyroid is already LOW, keto has the potential to make it worse.

You might be asking what does this have to do with women in particular?  Thyroid disease can also cause things like problems with menstruation and infertility [4].

What the study says is that the thyroid of those eating 50g or more of carbs per day was not affected.  Cleary that isn’t us keto folks.

Now, some people’s bodies can handle the stress that the lifestyle may put on the thyroid and other’s can’t.

For me personally, since my thyroid already is stressed and underproduces, I do a carb up day per week.  This alleviates some of the stress and fills my glycogen reserves.

I prefer cyclical keto for women due to the hormone issues.  Our bodies are just different and that is ok!

If you want to learn more about the amazing benefits of carb up days, check out this article that talks about it in detail

SO the moral of the story?  Keto is fine for women, we just need to listen to our bodies and throw in some more carbs here and there.

I am not giving permission to run out and chow down on a Big Mac and chocolate chip cookies.  But maybe throw a sweet potato in with dinner.

Keto on!

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826507

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1249190

[3] https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid-nodules/thyroid-gland-controls-bodys-metabolism-how-it-works-symptoms-hyperthyroi

[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/female-infertility/expert-answers/hypothyroidism-and-infertility/faq-20058311

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